America’s seventh-oldest opera company was founded as The Opera Guild of Greater Miami (later known as Greater Miami Opera Association) in 1941 by Arturo di Filippi, an accomplished tenor and voice teacher at the University of Miami. In 1945, The Opera Guild, Inc., of Fort Lauderdale was founded with the mission of presenting performances of Opera Guild of Greater Miami productions in Fort Lauderdale. The relationship continued until 1994, when the two companies merged to form Florida Grand Opera.
In Miami, the initial performances were presented in the Miami Senior High School Auditorium until 1951, when Dade County Auditorium opened west of the downtown area. In 2006, Miami performances moved to the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House at the new Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. Performances in Fort Lauderdale were continuously presented at the War Memorial Auditorium from 1945 until the opening of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in 1991.
From 1941 through 1972, founder and General Manager Arturo di Filippi regularly brought leading artists from the Metropolitan Opera to south Florida, presenting them in the roles for which they had won worldwide acclaim. A 1965 production of Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland featured a young Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, in his American debut. Opera had begun to flourish in south Florida.
Upon Dr. di Filippi’s retirement, he was succeeded by Robert Herman in 1973. Herman had served as Assistant General Manager at the Metropolitan Opera under Sir Rudolph Bing, and was persuaded to forgo retirement to lead the Miami company. During his administration the world’s leading opera singers continued to appear with the company, and production values were dramatically elevated as the subscriber and donor based increased. Greater Miami Opera entered the ranks of the country’s leading opera companies and was established as one of the premier cultural institutions in the southeastern United States.
Robert M. Heuer was appointed General Manager when Herman retired in 1985. During his tenure, extensive educational and outreach programs were developed throughout the community and the company’s Young Artist Studio was established. In addition, Heuer led efforts to build a much-needed state of the art performance venue in Miami, which resulted in the opening of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in 2006. Heuer’s 25th Anniversary was celebrated with a gala concert in 2010, and he retired in 2012.
Susan T. Danis was appointed Florida Grand Opera’s fourth General Director in 2012. During her tenure at Sarasota Opera, where she had served as Executive Director since 1999, the company’s budget had grown exponentially, and she successfully headed a $47 million capital campaign which included the renovation of the company’s historic theater. In the Fall of 2013, her first planned season will open with Marvin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra, and will also include the company’s first production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.